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  • French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speak during a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, August 22, 2019.

    French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speak during a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, August 22, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

Published 22 August 2019

“I want to be very clear: in the month ahead, we will not find a new withdrawal agreement that deviates far from the original,” Macron said.

French President Emmanuel Macron told Prime Minister Boris Johnson Thursday that there was not enough time to wholly rewrite Britain’s Brexit divorce deal before an Oct. 31 deadline.

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Johnson met Macron at the Elysee Palace a day after talks in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who challenged Britain to come up with alternatives to the agreed safety net provision for the UK-Irish land border.

More than three years after the United Kingdom voted to quit the European Union, it is still unclear on what terms - or indeed whether - the bloc’s second-largest economy will leave the club it joined in 1973.

Macron left the door open to Britain seeking a solution to the Irish “backstop”  but said any alternative must respect both the integrity of the EU single market and stability on the divided island of Ireland.

“I want to be very clear: in the month ahead, we will not find a new withdrawal agreement that deviates far from the original,” Macron said after a warm handshake with the British premier.

On his first trip abroad since entering 10 Downing Street a month ago, Johnson has warned Merkel and Macron that they face a potentially disorderly no-deal Brexit on Oct. 31 unless the EU does a new deal. 

Johnson told Macron that he believed it was still possible to agree one in time for the Oct. 31 deadline, and that he had been “powerfully encouraged” by what he had heard from Merkel Wednesday.

“Let’s get Brexit done, let’s get it done sensibly and pragmatically and in the interests of both sides and let’s not wait until October 31,” Johnson said. “Let’s get on now in deepening and intensifying the friendship and partnership between us.”

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Johnson, an ardent Brexiteer, is betting that the threat of ‘no-deal’ Brexit turmoil will convince Merkel and Macron that the EU should do a last-minute deal to suit his demands. He has repeated promises to leave on Oct. 31 - with or without a deal.

Macron insisted Britain’s destiny lay in Johnson’s hands alone. He said the EU did not want a ‘no-deal’ scenario, but would be ready if it happened.

Signaling that the ball was in the UK’s court, he said, “If we cannot find alternatives, then it will be because of a deeper problem, a political one, a British political problem. And for that, negotiations can’t help. It will be up to the prime minister to make that choice, it won’t be up to us.”

After Brexit, the frontier between Ireland and the UK province of Northern Ireland will be the only land border between the EU and Britain.

The EU wants to ensure that it does not become a back door for goods to enter the EU’s single market - which guarantees the free movement of goods, capital, services, and labor.

Ireland for its part says checks could undermine the 1998 Good Friday agreement, which brought peace to Northern Ireland after more than 3,600 died in a three-decade conflict between unionists who wanted the province to remain British and Irish nationalists who want it to join a united Ireland ruled from Dublin.

The backstop, negotiated by Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May, provides for Britain to remain in a temporary customs union with the EU after Brexit, avoiding the need for any ‘hard’ border infrastructure, until a better solution is found.

But Johnson said in Paris, “Under no circumstances will the UK government be instituting, imposing, checks or controls of any kind at that border. We think there are ways of protecting the integrity of the single market and allowing the UK to exit from the EU.”

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